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The City of Niagra Falls could save $700,000 to $1 million if eight unions agree to participate in one health insurance plan offered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mayor Vince Anello said last week.

The city spent $10.5 million last year on health insurance for its employees and $5.3 million for its retirees. The unified insurance plan would reduce both those costs, Anello said.

"The interesting thing is it's not just the money we're going to save now," he said. "Every single health insurance expert has told me we'll definitely save a lot more in the future."

Anello said getting the city's 635 workers under a unified system by May 1 is a top priority of his administration.

"From a cleaner to the top cop, everyone should have the same plan," he told a room of city workers gathered last week in City Hall for a presentation of the proposed insurance program.

If approved, the new plan would eliminate the 20 percent contribution employees make toward their health care and improve dental and chiropractic care, while maintaining inexpensive prescription and doctor visit costs.

The package is the fruit of eight months of work by a health care committee, which included members from each union and the city administration. The committee worked with Niagara Insurance Group to design a plan and put it out for bid.

"This is the first time we've ever sat down and worked out a plan," said Tom Vitello, president of Local 9434, United Steelworkers. "Usually an insurance plan is dropped on the table, and it's take it or leave it."

Claire Hughes, a principal clerk in City Hall, said she was grateful the administration listened to the desires of the unions, which hasn't been the case in the past.

"I think everything that's in there is what all the unions wanted," said Hughes, who attended one of two informational meetings held for employees last week.

City employees now have health insurance through about five carriers, but Blue Cross/Blue Shield offered to follow the committee's plan for the lowest price under the condition that all eight unions sign on, Anello said.

Robert Butski, a labor consultant with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, told city workers the health care plan on the table in Niagara Falls is very good compared with other municipalities in Western New York.

Each union now will hold meetings to vote on the plan. If accepted by all, the City Council will be presented with a two-year memorandum of understanding that will become part of labor contracts under negotiation, said Vitello, who was on the health care committee.

Niagara Falls would follow Amherst and Erie County, which recently unified health insurance for their employees.


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